OPINION: Create your apps but we won’t use them, Kenyan government

It flies in the face of common sense when governments fund innovations and rebuff their use once they materialise.

Three years ago, the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications came up with a grant product to spur ICT innovation in Kenya. Shrouded in mystery on how the small startups have been funded, it is still yet to bear fruit.

Part of the grant programme included coming up with solutions that would be used by the government in their processes. Since its inception, there have been two rounds of grants, but they are so far shooting blanks. There has been little or no implementation on the government side.

A good example is the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) tax filing solutions. The KRA refused to give the much-needed access to the developers, leading to the shutdown of the idea.

A number of the iniatives filed under the government project are either dead or half-baked. Take for example the teacher’s portal. The design is wanting and two years after receiving grants the project is still stuck. None of the projects are making the impact they originally intended.

Kaburo Kobia, Project Manager for Local Digital Content at Kenya ICT Board, told HumanIPO that the KRA tax-filing project will not be funded given the constraints.

“Only one project will not complete, the KRA IVR tax-filing system. KRA was not willing to allow the application to access its system. We tried hard to find a work around solution by mirroring the data etc. The system was developed, but as access was not granted, we had to suspend the project and funding ceased,” she said.

Then there are only two questions to ask. Why bother funding these projects? And most importantly, is the government ready to embrace innovation?

Much of the government’s processes are still manual, with the same government slow to implement the digitisation of important services such as registry for lands, company registration, license payments and many other services that would save Kenyans from lining up in droves.

Government-funded projects such as the Tandaa Grants are doomed to fail if the government does not embrace the products that come from such funding and closely monitor the progress of projects.

It can be also argued that the government has taken on the role of Venture Capitalist but lacks the experience of one when it comes to technology.

Mbugua Njihia of Symbiotic said that poor government policies have made innovators fail to realise business potentials from their solutions.

“Innovation in many instances moves faster than legislation simply by the nature of the ecosystem players involved. Private sector is nimble and decisive, but the same cannot be said of government,” he commented.

The numerous fibre-optic cables branching into the country have created capacity, but local talent will be left on the shelf if the government does not get its policies right to support local innovators. It isn’t enough to splash money on startups in order to be seen to be doing good. There must be a continuous and deliberate move to properly deploy local innovations.

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